Reema Khrais

Fletcher Fellow for Education Policy Reporting

Reema Khrais joined WUNC in 2013 to cover education in pre-kindergarten through high school. Previously, she won the prestigious Joan B. Kroc Fellowship. For the fellowship, she spent a year at NPR where she reported nationally, produced on Weekends on All Things Considered and edited on the digital desk. She also spent some time at New York Public Radio as an education reporter, covering the overhaul of vocational schools, the contentious closures of city schools and age-old high school rivalries.

A North Carolina native, Reema began her radio career with Carolina Connection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as an anchor and reporter. She later interned at The Story, and traveled to Cairo, Egypt to produce stories from the 2011 revolution. Her work has also appeared on CNN, The Takeaway and On The Media.

Ways to Connect

Kindergarten teacher Daly Romero Espinal teaches her students basic Spanish commands on the first day of school at Martin Millennium Academy.
Reema Khrais

 Fewer North Carolina students are enrolling in teaching programs, a problem education leaders say they are trying to tackle by strengthening recruitment, improving teacher preparation and supporting pay increases.

The number of undergraduate and graduate students declaring education majors dropped by 12 percent between 2013 and 2014. It’s a statistic education officials repeated and mulled over during Tuesday’s UNC Board of Governors Education Summit held by the SAS Institute.

Gavel, Court
SalFalko via Flickr, Creative Commons

A North Carolina superior court judge will hold a hearing Wednesday on whether the state is providing every student with the opportunity for an adequate education.

Judge Howard E. Manning Jr. is in charge of making sure the state hasn't forgotten about the Leandro case,  a decades-old landmark lawsuit that says all children - regardless of their socioeconomic backgrounds - deserve a 'sound, basic education.'

At Duke University on Friday, students gathered on the lawn outside the campus chapel to listen to the Muslim call to prayer. But it did not come from the chapel bell tower. Earlier this week, the university said Muslim students could use the bell tower — but then backtracked after getting threats.

multiple choice test
Alberto G. / Flickr Creative Commons

Education leaders are considering drastically cutting the number of standardized tests for public school students.

Members of a state task force charged with studying how often students are tested have drafted a proposal that would eliminate almost all end-of-grade tests and end-of-course tests.

“Right now, we know that too much weight is put on end-of-grade tests and end-of-course tests,” said Bladen County Schools Superintendent Robert Taylor, who’s on the task force.

Classroom
WUNC File Photo

All North Carolina high school students will be graded on a 10-point scale starting next school year, a change State Board of Education members approved Thursday. 

That means students will earn A’s if they score between 90 and 100. Currently, they’re graded on a 7-point scale.

State officials had previously decided in October to phase in the new 10-point scale with next year’s freshmen class. But Rebecca Garland, Deputy State Superintendent for the Department of Public Instruction, said that decision upset parents, students, teachers and superintendents.

taxi
Daniel Horacio Agostini via Flickr

A Raleigh taxi driver is claiming that some cab drivers could go on strike this New Year’s Eve to protest what they consider to be unfair competition from ride-sharing companies.  

They argue that web-based services like Uber and Lyft undercut taxi cab drivers because they are not subject to the same registration, licensing and insurance regulations as traditional taxis.

The Virginia opossum, Didelphis virginiana
Cody Pope via Wikimedia commons

The annual possum drop in western North Carolina will go on this year, but without a live animal. 

For more than 20 years, Brasstown residents have watched a possum drop in a Plexiglass box at the stroke of midnight. But following challenges from animal rights advocates, organizer Clay Logan said he plans to use possum stew, hide or road-kill instead. 

high school students
Vancouver Film School via Flickr/Creative Commons

Wake County School leaders hope to spend millions over the next few years to help support their high-poverty schools.

Officials identified 12 “high-needs” elementary schools earlier this year that will receive extra resources like professional development and more pay for teachers.

“One immediate need that we saw in a lot of the schools had to do with vacancies,” said Cathy Moore, Wake's deputy superintendent for school performance, at a recent school board meeting. 

Fingers on a keyboard, computer,
Wikimedia Commons

The state is closer to opening two virtual charter schools. A special committee on Wednesday cleared two applications of proposed charter schools that would be operated by for-profit companies.

North Carolina Virtual Academy would be managed by K12 Inc., which has had student performance problems in other states, while N.C. Connections Academy would be affiliated with Connections Education.

On Wednesday, the state committee took turns firing off questions to the two eager applicants.

There was the biggest and most obvious question:

Interstate 40 traffic
Dave DeWitt

Wake County school leaders said Thursday that the state’s decision to eliminate funding for driver’s education could put students at risk and lead to higher costs for families and taxpayers.

This summer, state lawmakers passed legislation to eliminate the $26 million school districts now receive to fund the program. That means starting next July, when the new fiscal year begins, districts will have to find other means to cover program costs.

students with laptops in classroom
Enokson / Flickr/Creative Commons

Members of a state commission have identified their top priorities for revising the Common Core academic standards used for North Carolina’s public school students.  

At a meeting Monday, they said they want to focus on increasing flexibility for teachers and school districts, rewriting the standards so they’re clear and understandable, and identifying standards that are developmentally inappropriate.

Melissa Hayden teaches her AP U.S. History class in Pittsboro, North Carolina at Northwood High School.
Reema Khrais

At a high school in Chatham County, Melissa Hayden reminds her students about tomorrow’s big history test. They’re learning about the populism movement and western expansion.

But before they delve into those lessons, Hayden begins class with something she read in the news.

“Let’s see, this is an article that I printed off in Newsweek last night,” says Hayden, an Advanced Placement U.S. History teacher at Northwood High School.  

Gavel, Court
SalFalko via Flickr, Creative Commons

The U.S. Federal Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit is scheduled to hear oral arguments Wednesday on a lawsuit challenging Wake County’s school board election maps.

The Durham-based Southern Coalition for Social Justice is challenging the 2013 redistricting on behalf of a handful of Wake County residents and two local organizations. They argue that the new districts drawn by the Republican-led General Assembly disfavor urban voters.

House Under Construction
Dave DeWitt / WUNC

 Members of the Cary Town Council are calling on county officials to help address the issue of overcrowding in Wake County public schools.

Earlier this month, the council tabled a request to rezone about 58 acres in west Cary that would have created 130 new homes.

Some members say they don’t feel comfortable moving forward with the plan just yet – at least not while many of the nearby schools are at or above capacity.

Hundreds gathered in downtown Durham on Tuesday night to protest the lack of charges against Darren Wilson. They held signs that read "We Are All Michael Brown."
Reema Khrais

Hundreds of people gathered throughout central North Carolina Tuesday night in response to the decision in Ferguson, Missouri to not indict white police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of black 18-year-old Michael Brown.

In Durham, dozens of protesters briefly stopped traffic on the northbound lanes of the Durham Freeway around 6:30 p.m.  They were chanting slogans like “No Justice, No Peace" and "No Racist Police." 

iPad with a notebook next to it
Sean MacEntee / Flickr/Creative Commons

Thirteen public schools in Wake County will soon be asking students to bring their tablets, smartphones, iPads and laptops to class.

The elementary, middle and high schools are participating in a pilot program called BYOD, or Bring Your Own Device, that will be rolled out over the next couple of months.

Fayetteville teacher assistant Grace King works with first graders on sight words.
Reema Khrais

Public school districts throughout the state have fewer teacher assistants in the classrooms this academic year than the previous year, despite assurances from lawmakers that the state budget would not lead to TA reductions.  

Since the 2008-09 recession, state funding for TAs has been reduced by more than 20 percent, leading to thousands of cuts.

In Cumberland County Schools, teacher assistant Grace King begins her day driving a school bus.

The Academic Standards Review Commission met for their third meeting on Monday.
Reema Khrais

  A commission charged with making changes to the state's Common Core academic standards is facing a very elemental question: how will it get the money it needs to complete its work?

Legislators passed a bill this summer to create a commission to review and recommend changes to the Math and English academic standards for public school students.

In the legislation, lawmakers outlined that the commission should have money to hire staff and conduct research, but did not make clear how much money the commission will receive and where it will come from.

classroom
Malate269 / Wikimedia Commons

  The State Board of Education on Thursday placed Charter Day School Inc. on “financial probationary status” for not turning over salary information of school employees to the Department of Public Instruction.

The state gave all 148 charter school operators until the end of September to provide salaries of school employees who are hired by for-profit companies.

Charter Day, which oversees four charter schools in the Wilmington area, was the only operator to not comply.

The four Democratic winners pose with Congressman David Price
Reema Khrais

After sweeping all four open seats, Democrats now have full control of the Wake County Board of Commissioners.

“It looks like we did it. The people of Wake County have chosen to move forward,” said John Burns, a business lawyer from Raleigh. He unseated Coble.

Democrats Matt Calabria, Sig Hutchinson, John Burns and Jessica Holmes each captured about 55 percent of the vote, defeating Commissioners Joe Bryant, Paul Coble, Phil Matthews and Rich Gianni.

Kindergarten teacher Daly Romero Espinal teaches her students basic Spanish commands on the first day of school at Martin Millennium Academy.
Reema Khrais

Slightly fewer teachers left North Carolina last year than the year before, but more left because they were dissatisfied with teaching or wanted to teach in another state, according to a state Department of Public Instruction draft report.

Of the 96,010 public school teachers employed last year, 1,011 said they left because they were dissatisfied with teaching or had a career change. The year before, nearly nine hundred teachers left for those reasons.

teacher in a blur with classroom
Bart Everson / Flickr/Creative Commons

With Election Day almost here, it’s become clear that one issue has headlined almost all of the races: education.

Incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Kay Hagan and her Republican challenger Thom Tillis have traded barbs over issues of teacher pay and education funding, while similar conversations are playing out in legislative races throughout the state.

multiple choice test
Alberto G. / Flickr Creative Commons

One high school freshman is determined to change how the new grading scale will be implemented in public schools next year.

Parker Renberg, a freshman at Leesville Road High School in Wake County, says he’s upset that the grading scale changes will not affect him or any other current high school student.

Instead, it’ll begin with next year’s freshman class. They’ll be graded on a 10-point scale, instead of a 7-point scale. That means an A will be a 90-to-100 instead of 93-to-100.

East Chapel Hill High School students
Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools

A state commission in charge of reworking the Common Core academic standards has begun reviewing them.  

Members spent hours on Monday learning what's expected under Common Core in terms of English and language arts. Some of those goals include when students should know how to explain their ideas or comprehend certain texts.  

The 11 members were politically appointed to review and possibly make changes to the academic standards after lawmakers heard complaints from parents and teachers that they do not progress in a natural or developmentally appropriate way.

Students at lunch
U.S. Department of Agriculture

About 650 schools throughout the state are opting into a program to provide free breakfast and lunch for all students.

It is part of a new program called Community Eligibility Provision, funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The idea is to allow schools with high percentages of low-income children to offer free meals for all, instead of collecting individual applications for free and reduced price meals.

In Durham, 10 schools are offering free meals to all students.

Marcie (left) and Chantelle Fisher-Borne, adoption day. Monday 10/14/14
Reema Khrais

Marcie and Chantelle Fisher-Borne have been together for 18 years. They have two kids, 6-year-old Miley and 2-year-old Elijah. Marcie Fisher-Borne gave birth to Miley and Chantelle Fisher-Borne gave birth to Eli. So each parent has been considered a 'legal stranger' to one of their kids.

They were at the Durham County Courthouse Monday because same-sex marriage is now legal in North Carolina. And that means they can adopt as a family.

Nancy Ruth Best and Wynolia Apple plan to get married next Sunday after being together for 23 years.
Reema Khrais

Same-sex couples are expected to head to Register of Deeds offices across the state today to get marriage licenses. A federal judge overturned the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage late Friday.

That case was filed by a group of clergy members. They argued that not being able to marry gay couples violated their freedom of religion. This weekend, many churches celebrated the decision, including Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Durham.

high school students
Vancouver Film School via Flickr/Creative Commons

North Carolina’s average SAT score from high school seniors is slightly improving, but is below the national average.

The 2014 senior class posted an average score of 1483 on the SAT college admission test, up four points from last year’s. A perfect score is 2400, with the three sections on the test graded on a 200-800 point scale.

The average score is 14 points below the national average of 1497. North Carolina students did not perform as well as their national peers in writing and math.

school supplies
Flickr via Robert S. Donovan

In North Carolina public schools, formal assessments do not begin until third grade, but many students develop learning problems long before then. That’s why education leaders say they are rolling out a statewide plan to begin assessing students in the earlier years.

Now, that does not mean five- and six-year-olds will have more paper and pencil tests. Instead, the responsibility will fall on teachers to track the development of their students.

Formative Assessments In A Kindergarten Classroom

multiple choice test
Alberto G. / Flickr Creative Commons

  North Carolina’s high schools will move to a 10-point grading scale in 2015-16, going into effect with next year's freshmen. 

The State Board of Education approved the change on Thursday, moving away from the 7-point scale that has long been in place.

The 7-point scale means that a score between 93 and 100 is an A, 85-92 is a B, and so on.

Under the new scale, an A will be 90 to 100, and an 80 will be the lowest B. Scores below 60 will be considered failing.  

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